16th June 2013. 11th Sunday of Year C.
2 Sam 12:7-10,13. When challenged about his sin, King David readily repents… and is forgiven.
Gal 2:16,19-21. Jesus is so central to Paul’s life that he feels “crucified with Christ.”
Lk 7:36-8:3. In a Pharisee’s house, Jesus praises the repentance of the sinful woman.
Today’s Scriptures describe two major examples of repentance. Even if the notion of sin is almost extinct, we are invited to accept personal responsibility for our wrong-doing and seek God’s forgiveness.
First Reading: 2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.
Second Reading: Galatians 2:16, 19-20
We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.
But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “our faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
How Forgiveness Works
We can’t help wondering why was Jesus so forgiving towards the wayward and the sinners, and yet so seemingly harsh towards the upright Pharisees, pillars of the Jewish religion? It must be because Pharisees saw moral goodness as atheir own achievement, based on will-power and integrity, without need for divine help or forgiveness. God, they felt, was a Law-enforcer, who rewarded those who observed the Law, while punishing those who broke it. This explains their attitude towards sinners, whom they shunned and despised. They were blind to the fact that we do not, and cannot, create our own goodness.
St Paul faces this point, and indeed puts into words what most of us feel, on occasion, about our own conduct. “I cannot understand my own behaviour,” he says. “I fail to carry out my good intentions…” Our rescue from this dilemma is by a loving trust and faith in Jesus Christ. Be guided by the Holy Spirit, he advises, not by the Law, and you will not yield to self-indulgence (Gal 5:17). The core of the his message is not about law, but about the grace of God, the love and forgiveness which Christ alone can give. For St John too, the essential sin is to lack this faith and trust in Jesus. Faith is admitting our need for Jeus, accepting his claims, and coming to Jesus relying on his mercy. This is the point of today’s gospel. Love wells up in our hearts from the experience of being forgiven by God.
An English mystic of the 14th century, Dame Julian of Norwich, who lived most of her life as a recluse in a cell attached to a church, saw the life of discipleship as a succession of failures, of falling down, picking ourselves up and falling flat again. “We need to fall,” she wrote, “and we need to see that we have done so. If we never fell, we should not know how weak and pitiable we are in ourselves. Nor should we fully know the wonderful love of our maker.” And indeed no one, no matter what they have done, is barred from forgiveness. Our first reading describes the repentance of king David, and the gospel that of a despised public sinner. No matter how terrible the sin, God is ready to blot it out, if we repent.
“It is the one who is forgiven little who has little love,” was our Lord’s rebuke to the Pharisee. The ones who are good for making excuses are seldom good for anything else, and we see how King David did not offer excuses for having brought about the death of Uriah after committing adultery with his wife. “I have sinned against God,” he openly admitted, and God forgave him. Let us too sincerely admit the need we have for forgiveness from such a forgiving and compassionate God.
Forgiveness and love
(1) The homily might concentrate on good and bad associations with the sacrament of reconciliation, i.e. on the experience of receiving God’s forgiveness, which is at the same time the gift of his life and love, the binding of the repentant sinner to himself, rather than the feelings of guilt and anxieties and arithmetical gymnastics. Any confessor will realize that it is so much easier and more satisfying to deal with the “big” sinner who acknowledges guilt frankly and is overjoyed by receiving forgiveness, than with the dulled conscience like David, or the “good” person not conscious of sin like Simon. Perhaps the preacher’s role at this Mass is to help the Davids and the Simons to find in themselves the response of the sinful woman. The Mass should be a conversion experience for us, a turning to God.
(2) Explain that God’s gift of forgiveness involves God’s gift of himself. It is an enriching of our lives with his love and his truth. We are splendidly gifted by a generous and compassionate God. We do not merit the gifts. Thank God we do not get what we deserve! What is lacking in so many of us is a response of gratitude and love for the gifts we receive. We put no heart into it. Jesus is our guest, and we treat him decently enough, but as nothing special. Like Simon, we miss the meaning of what is happening. Lord, teach us to stand at your feet, to listen to you, to reach out to you in love, to rejoice that you meet us with such patience and understanding.
The Friend of Sinners
Today’s gospel gives us a “close-up” view of the friend of sinners in action. I knew somebody like that. She was an elderly religious sister who was retired, and who was free to use her time as she pleased. Every morning she set off with a shopping bag, and no one seemed to know where she was going, and what she did all day. She never spoke about her work, and nobody asked her. One day she was knocked down and killed by a car as she tried to cross a busy road.
Her funeral took her community completely by surprise. Every “drop-out,” wino, and homeless person in Dublin arrived at the convent for her funeral. She had been their friend, and they came to pay tribute to her. It was quite a revelation for her community, who were embarrassed, humbled, and profoundly moved by the outpouring of grief they witnessed.
Today’s story is at the house of a Pharisee, one of those who emphasised love of law rather than the law of love. It was certainly no place for a public sinner to show her face. She was outside the pale, of a group despised by devout Jews. It is almost as if Jesus had prearranged the scene, to let him state the whole purpose of his mission. He frequently said that he had come to call sinners, and to befriend them.
Not only did Jesus befriend the woman, but he even let her serve him. There was something about him that stirred a profound reverence within her, and she showed that reverence and respect by the anointing with oil, which was the highest expression of reverence one could show to another. Jesus had a ready-made, real, living object lesson right there, and he took full advantage of it. He was aware of the shock and horror among the onlookers, and he used the occasion to drive home a central point of his teaching.